Commentary

Hail Desmond Bishop, Packers' savior

Like Roethlisberger's postseason stop, LB's timely 'shoestring' no small potatoes

Originally Published: January 28, 2011
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

From now through the kickoff of Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6, accolades will be showered on the Green Bay Packers' leading men, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson.

But do not forget the supporting actor who made this Arlington, Texas, showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers possible.

Green Bay would not be in the position it is today without a key tackle from linebacker Desmond Bishop against the host Philadelphia Eagles in an NFC wild-card game Jan. 9.

With 1 minute, 37 seconds remaining and Green Bay clinging to a five-point lead, Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson caught a Michael Vick pass. Jackson broke a tackle and got into the open field -- no player in football is more lethal in that situation. Somehow, Bishop notched a shoestring tackle on Jackson at the Green Bay 38-yard line. The play helped the Packers escape with a 21-16 victory and advance to record subsequent victories over the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears to win the NFC title.

"I think that might have been the biggest tackle of my career," Bishop said. "He probably would have scored."

When they were college teammates at the University of California, Bishop and Jackson were roommates for a year. Had Jackson slipped past Bishop, he probably would have scored the game-winning touchdown. Instead, Bishop helped topple Jackson and the Eagles, whose threat ended four plays later with Tramon Williams' end zone interception of Vick.

[+] EnlargeDesmond Bishop
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesBishop tripped up former college roommate Jackson and might have saved the Packers' season.

Like Bishop and Williams -- who has three interceptions this postseason, including a pick-six -- other Packers have come up big when it mattered most.

In the 21-14 NFC Championship Game defeat of the host Bears this past Sunday, Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields intercepted two passes. He became the first rookie cornerback since the Carolina Panthers' Ricky Manning in 2004 to intercept two passes in a conference championship game.

Packers punter Tim Masthay helped win the field-position battle in that game, pinning five of his eight punts inside the 20. But the Packer who turned in the one play that made all the others possible was Bishop.

It's fitting that Bishop's heroics would help set up the Packers' impending Cowboys Stadium duel with Roethlisberger, who is in quest of his third Lombardi Trophy as quarterback of the Steelers.

Bishop's play was the best and most memorable postseason shoestring tackle since Jan. 15, 2006, in the old RCA Dome. With 1:20 remaining in a 2005 AFC divisional playoff game, Roethlisberger brought down then-Indianapolis Colts cornerback Nick Harper -- who was 35 yards into a return of a Jerome Bettis fumble -- at the Colts' 42. Pittsburgh advanced with a 21-18 victory, one step closer to its first Super Bowl title with Roethlisberger at the helm.

Fortune smiled on Bishop even before he helped extend the Packers' season.

Less than one week before the Packers played the Eagles, Bishop signed a four-year, $19 million contract extension. If he never made another play in Green Bay, Bishop was worth it.

On to this week's Pre-Super-Bowl 10 Spot:

1. Green Bay's coaching staff has a decidedly Pittsburgh flavor to it. Nine of Green Bay's coaches grew up or worked in or near Pittsburgh and most even rooted for the Steelers.

"This is going to be a very unique experience for everybody," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who grew up in Pittsburgh and later coached at the University of Pittsburgh. "Half my coaching staff has either played in Pittsburgh or is from Pittsburgh. So there will be a lot of storylines from that perspective."

Get ready to hear all about them. Aside from McCarthy, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers did the same job for the Steelers from 1992-94. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin coached at Allegheny College in the early 1990s. Quarterbacks coach Tom Clements was born in McKees Rocks, Pa., and coached the Steelers' quarterbacks from 2001-03. Tight ends coach Ben McAdoo was born in Homer City, Pa., and became an offensive assistant coach at Pitt in 2003.

Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene was a Steelers star from 1993-95. Defensive quality control coach Scott McCurley was born in New Castle, Pa., and played at Pitt from 1998-2002. Secondary/safeties coach Darren Perry played for the Steelers from 1992-98. And special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum worked in 1990 as a graduate assistant at Pitt, where he got to know McCarthy. Green Bay's coaches have celebrated Steelers Super Bowl titles. But this is one they're doing everything they can to prevent.

2. Once again, the postseason is making a mockery of AP awards that are voted on during the regular season. What each voter should be saying now -- like so many newspapermen used to -- is, "Get me rewrite."

The New England Patriots' Tom Brady will win the NFL's Most Valuable Player award, but over the course of a full season, no one has been more valuable than Green Bay's Rodgers. Patriots coach Bill Belichick or Falcons coach Mike Smith will wind up as the NFL's Coach of the Year, but no coach has done a better job than McCarthy or Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin. And yes, if the voting system were changed, Super Bowl teams would dominate the awards year after year. But the honors should be for the full season, not just the regular season. And as long as ballots are cast in December, the awards will continue to seem outdated when they are announced more than a month later. Absurd.

[+] EnlargeBrett Keisel
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireKeisel stroked his beard in celebration of beating the Ravens.

3. Each year the Super Bowl makes stars out of unsuspecting suspects. The leading candidate for Super Bowl XLV? Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. Or, more accurately, Keisel's beard. Pittsburgh calls it "The Scruff of Legends." It has its own Facebook page. It has gotten so long and unruly that Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Farmer tweeted last week, "Brett Keisel's beard has a beard."

Interesting that "Lombardi" is now the rage of Broadway, but Super Bowl XLV could turn into the football version of "(Facial) Hair." The locks of the Packers' Matthews and Steelers safety Troy Polamalu will get their share of attention. But Keisel's beard, which he has grown since the summer and vows to shave after the Super Bowl, is about to grow into a national curiosity.

4. Super Bowl XLV will feature football's top two scoring defenses. Pittsburgh led the NFL in scoring defense this season, surrendering only 232 points. Green Bay ranked second, allowing 240. It marks only the fourth time in Super Bowl history -- and the first since the Redskins played the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII -- that the league's top two scoring defenses will square off in the season's final game. It just goes to prove that while quarterback is football's most important position, scoring defense might be its most telling stat.

5. Good thing Pittsburgh's defense is so good. It will have to be against Rodgers. Of all the comments that all the players have made this postseason, one of the most significant came from Rodgers on Jan. 15 after he blitzed the host Falcons in the Georgia Dome. He completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns, and also rushed for a score, to pace a 48-21 rout.

"I like playing indoors," Rodgers said after the NFC divisional playoff win. "The weather conditions are perfect. I can wear my leather shoes so my feet don't hurt."

The retractable roof at $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium will be closed for the Super Bowl. The weather conditions will be perfect. The disconcerting part for the Steelers has to be that Rodgers might be again, too.

6. Get ready for a week's worth of questions for Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau about whether either will return to Pittsburgh next season. Ward turns 35 in March. He has told some people that if he were to win a third Super Bowl, he would retire. He has told other people, including his mother, that he is not even thinking about the issue at this time, nor should he. But even he has to know that decision time could be coming for the Steelers' all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Then there is the matter of LeBeau, every bit as integral to Pittsburgh as Ward. LeBeau's contract expires after Super Bowl XLV. Pittsburgh would like him back; the question is whether LeBeau wants to come back. At 73, LeBeau could decide he'd rather go golfing than go to training camp again. LeBeau will be asked about his future next week, as will Ward. They might find the questions hard to answer. It will be even harder for the Steelers to thrive without these two, whenever that day comes.

7. Few players will feel the sense of vindication next week that former Dallas Cowboys and current Steelers offensive tackle Flozell Adams will. Last offseason, Dallas released Adams when it felt he wasn't worth the money owed him. Now, Adams will return to play his first Super Bowl in the stadium of the team that cut him. Adams evolved into a force at right tackle for the Steelers. This past Sunday, Adams helped pave the way for Rashard Mendenhall to rush for 121 yards in Pittsburgh's AFC Championship Game win over the New York Jets. It was the type of performance that Dallas could have used on its offensive line last season. Adams isn't as dominant as he once was. But he was good enough to start for Pittsburgh and valuable enough to help the Steelers reach their eighth Super Bowl, tying the Cowboys for the most in league history.

8. Adams isn't the only big man who made his mark in a conference championship game Sunday. Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who is listed at 337 pounds, became the heaviest player to score a postseason touchdown, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Former Bears defensive tackle/fullback William "The Refrigerator" Perry, whom the Bears listed at 318 pounds, scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown 25 years ago this week in Super Bowl XX. Raji's touchdown came on a fourth-quarter, 18-yard interception return that gave the Packers a 21-7 lead over the Bears. Some might have thought Raji's milestone could have come eight days earlier, when the Packers used Raji at fullback against the Falcons the way the Bears used to deploy Perry. Raji is aware of Perry and his "Refrigerator" nickname. It is why he has dubbed himself "The Freezer." And "The Freezer" is now the heaviest player in NFL history to score a postseason touchdown.

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
AP Photo/Gene PuskarIn 2009, Steelers WR Mike Wallace beat the Packers on the final play. Could the Super Bowl rematch be as thrilling?

9. The last time Green Bay and Pittsburgh met, Dec. 20, 2009, they played an instant classic at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field. The teams combined for 973 total yards, 886 passing yards and more thrills than any 2009 regular-season game. A 24-14 fourth-quarter Pittsburgh lead dissolved into four lead changes in the game's final 7:49. Roethlisberger threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace on the game's final play for a 37-36 Steelers victory. Roethlisberger finished with a Steelers-record 503 passing yards and three touchdown passes. Rodgers threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns. And the teams put on the type of show that everyone hopes to see again Feb. 6.

10. NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith recently yelled to a group of players, "We are at war!", the New York Times reported last week. But the comments of Steelers chairman Dan Rooney were more meaningful. Rooney told a group of reporters in Pittsburgh that he opposed expanding the regular season to 18 games.

"I would rather not get the money," Rooney said in a statement that stood in stark contrast to the message that owners have been sending. "You have a system that works, so why add them? Now the people usually say, 'The preseason doesn't work.' Well, look at the preseason as the preseason and try to work that out. Don't say you're going to start messing with the full system."

Asked if the owners' lack of faith in Smith contributed to the current stalemate, Rooney said: "I don't know the personalities. There is maybe distrust. Maybe dislike is a better word. But that's beyond. You have a situation like this, you've got to get a deal. You've got to forget personalities."

Rooney also spoke for every football fan when he sounded this message: "I just think the negotiators should get it together and start doing what they should do and get a deal. If they sit down and work things out, I think they could have a deal rather quickly." Everyone can only hope.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.